The year 2050 is more than three decades away, but forward-looking organisations are beginning to build it today, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The journey to the future always begins tomorrow. That may be a glib statement, but it’s also a strategic rule that is guiding many technology companies’ planning for the way the world is expected to be.
At the Cisco Live conference in Barcelona last week, the world’s leading networking hardware company revealed that this was one of the keys to its innovation.
“We like to make predictions of the future so that we can think about where we should be going, and contrast that with Cisco’s overall strategy,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president at Cisco. He is also Cisco’s general manager for the Internet of Things and Applications, meaning his day job is not only to think about the physical shape of the future, but to guide its creation.
“The reality is we are heading into an age of intelligence from a technology perspective, made possible by all the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning we’ve seen in the last few years. Those two advances are what underpin many of the innovations you’ve seen from us already.”
In a keynote address, Trollope took his audience through the key inventions and technologies that can already be predicted today through to 2050. However, rather than taking the safe route of predicting general directions and periods, he gave exact years when we could see specific innovations come to pass:
“Dubai has announced that, in 2022, they will launch the worlds first driverless hover taxi. A flying car. We finally get a flying car! This is real, this is happening.”
“By 2025, we believe you’re going to start seeing smartphones disappear. Last year I went to Florida to a little office park and visited a company called Magic Leap. They are launching an Augmented Reality headset, completely wireless, with all the capabilities of a smartphone, but you don’t have to carry around this brick in your hand. Google Glass was version 1, Magic Leap is version 2, and there will be many more versions. The experience I had was so much better than looking at a piece of glass. It’s hard not to imagine a world in which we don’t carry smartphones.”
“In 2027 we should see the first commercial launch of a technology called text-by-thinking. It was launched in 2010, and has been tested in medical applications. It’s pretty exciting but also super weird.”
As we reach the end of the 2020s, says Trollope, complete simulations of the human brain will become possible.
“This will allow us to achieve an incredible milestone, which is to fully simulate the functioning of the human brain. They can already do this for mice in the lab, so it’s only a matter of time. This will also be important for medical purposes.”
“The 2030s,” says Trollope, “will make the 2020s look like nothing has happened.
New job tiles on LinkedIn that will be common in 2030s will include positions like Avatar Manager, Body Part Maker, Vertical Farmer, Nano Medic, Climate Change Reversal Specialist, and Waste Data Handler. The world of work looks very different.”
“By the early 2030s, in 2034, we will see 1 Terabit connections (1000 Gigabits or a million Megabits per second) to the home become common, and even with on-person connection technologies, built into what we wear.”
This is where the role of organisations like Cisco becomes clearer. Because the company is the world’s leading supplier of the routers and switches and other equipment that allows computer networks to communicate, it also has a central role in making possible the rapid increase in data speeds on the Internet. Particularly with the rise of the Internet of Things, connected sensors and devices – and analysis of the data they generate – will play a key role.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in next 12 years to get to that world of 2034,” says Trollope. “Gathering data from every object around us, will transform the way we live and work. We will see really astounding progress from a networking perspective.”
“By 2036, as a result of reverse engineering the human brain, experts predict, Alzheimer’s will finally be cured. But between now and then we will see many of the diseases that afflict us today wiped out.”
“When we get to the 2040s, things really start to happen. We believe by 2040, the average home PC will have the computing power of 1-billion human brains. While today you have a thousand songs in your pocket, you will have a billion brains in your pocket by then.”
Trollope also believes that many of the computing giants that are household names today will have disappeared, become new entities or merge. He showed a mock-up logo for a brand called DELLnovo, cheekily suggesting the merging of Dell and Lenovo, today respectively the American and Chinese leaders in PC production.
“By 2045, Ray Kurzweil, the chief futurist of Google, has predicted we will reach the Singularity. That is the moment AI becomes smarter than humans. What Elon Musk and Bill Gates are concerned about, is that it might decide that it doesn’t need us pesky humans around anymore. Regardless of whether we believe that or not, we must be prepared for a future that is radically different.”
“By the end of the 2040s, virtual telepathy will dominate personal communications. Advancing text-by-thinking over the next 20 years, that technology will become good enough for personal use and cheap enough for most people on earth. It will radically change our culture and society in ways we can’t imagine.
“By the 2050s, we will have the first permanent human presence on Mars. We will finally become an interplanetary species. If you believe Elon Musk, it will happen even sooner.”
The big question, says Trollope, is what happens to planet Earth? It will need to support almost 10-billion people, but scientists believe it doesn’t have the “carrying capacity”.
“It will require two Earth-sized planets to support 9.7-billion people. The problem is that we only have one. The only way to survive comfortably in such a future, is that we have to be vastly more efficient with our resources, and that requires technology.
“We cannot have clean water and air for all people on earth without technology infrastructure. Every single system will require the groundwork we are doing today as a company and as an industry.”
Trollope has a warning that is both hopeful and ominous: “We have to think about how we are going to get there with technology. This puts in perspective why we do what we do. We have no choice.”
Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon
On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.
Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.
“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion. In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.
A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.
David Noton advises:
- Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky. Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.
- Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.
- Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
- Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
- Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability. By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!
How Africa can embrace AI
Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.
To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.
These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.
Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed
AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.
According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.
It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.
Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.
It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.
Combining STEM with the arts
Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.
As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.
For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.
“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.
Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.
Revisiting laws and regulation
For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.
Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.
Preparing for the future
With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.
To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.
It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.